Review – Dark teen classic ‘Heathers’ still prickles 30 years on

Poster for the 2018 re-release of teen classic Heathers

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 8th August 2018
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Michael Lehmann
Writer: Daniel Waters
Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk, Carrie Lynn
Synopsis: A popular teen becomes annoyed with her clique of friends and, with the help of an outsider bad boy, she develops a taste for murder.

 

 

In the 1980s, the teen movie was huge. John Hughes and the Brat Pack spent most of the decade making very sweet, very fluffy coming of age films set within the confines of very lovely high schools. The spiky outlier hiding in the corner of the lunch room wearing a black coat and dark eyeliner was Heathers. Michael Lehmann‘s debut feature is a defiant shout against the constructed society of high school, with a spiky sense of humour and an inky black heart. It’s no wonder that audiences are still drawn to it 30 years later, and it’s heading back into cinemas in a new restoration.

Heathers pulls its audience into the world of Westerburg High School in Ohio, which has a social hierarchy presided over by the ‘Heathers’ – a popular clique of exactly the sort that would later be seen in Mean Girls. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is friends with the group, but pours her heart into a diary in which she expresses secret desires to kill off these identikit pretty folk. Her salvation comes in the form of the mysterious loner JD (Christian Slater), who has a strange bloodlust and helps Veronica turn her angst and frustration into meaningful and irreversible actions.

Heathers stands up completely in 2018 because its stark sense of humour still feels brave and bold even today. It’s not uncommon for a movie to deal in pitch-black comedy about death, but it’s rare for that to play out within a high school setting and rarer still for the comedy to actually push as far as actual acts of violence and murder. Lehmann draws a fun contrast between the anarchist upheaval of JD’s plans and the more moderate reformist sensibilities of Veronica, who is played as a voice for change on a less drastic level, simply carried into more extreme territory by Slater’s bad boy.

And Heathers is as much about relationships as it is about high school, focusing on a destructive romance that leads to the slow severing of friendship ties. It’s just that, in this case, those friendship ties are severed rather more literally than you might expect. The violence is never depicted as cathartic or exciting, with a mundanity to the killing that drags Veronica further away from this path, as JD seems to move inexorably further down it. Ryder and Slater play the shades of these changes terrifically, slipping perfectly between idyllic coupledom and fractious rows about their differing moral stances.

But Lehmann is also able to evoke the standard world of the high school in Heathers. Just as with the catchphrase-spouting ‘Plastics’ in Mean Girls, the corridors of Westerburg hum with shouts of “what’s your damage?” and the infuriating habit of describing exciting things as “very”, as if daring anyone to be uncool enough to ask for the subsequent adjective the word demands. The Heathers aren’t short of an expletive or two either, with Kim Walker‘s ill-fated Heather Chandler creating an instantly memorable moment with her sickly sweet delivery of the phrase “fuck me gently with a chainsaw”.

There’s so much energy, fizz and anger to Heathers that it’s difficult not to be every bit as seduced into this world of destruction as Ryder’s Veronica transpires to be. Along with her, we go from being intrigued and beguiled to JD to considering him a mad tyrant, determined to tear apart the social order for little reason beyond his own petty belief that he’s right. Lehmann’s high school is a microcosm of society and, three decades after this initial statement of intent, the croquet-playing Heathers of the world are still on top. There’s life in this classic yet.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It might be 30 years since the halls of Westerburg High first appeared on the big screen, but this dark satire of teen society still has all of the blackly comic punch that it had back then.

Ryder and Slater are terrific as the Bonnie and Clyde of the classroom, on a supposedly righteous quest to steal the social order away from those who exercise unelected rule over those they deem to be below them. You owe this one another watch. Trust me, it’ll be very!

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

Heathers – 30th Anniversary will be re-released in cinemas from August 8 and comes to VOD on August 20.

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